SCEMFIS claims BOEM 'paid insufficient attention’ to offshore wind impact

In: Windfarms
29/07/2020
A new report released last week by the United States Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCEMFIS) claims that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) "paid insufficient attention" to the total impact of offshore wind beyond the proposed Vineyard Wind project in its latest environmental report. SCEMFIS researchers also allege that BOEM failed to address the scope and scale of offshore wind's impacts on fisheries surveys beyond categorising them as "major."

BOEM released its supplement to the draft environmental impact statement (SEIS) last month for the
Vineyard Wind,project off the coast of Massachusetts. The SEIS sought to analyse the cumulative impacts of every reasonably foreseeable offshore wind development on the U.S. East Coast in the coming years.

"In the case of the present SEIS, one cannot evaluate the total impact of the proposed development of the Mid-Atlantic Bight as insufficient attention is paid to the impact beyond the Vineyard Wind project, whereas the cumulative impact is the issue of greatest concern,"
the SCEMFIS team wrote. While the SEIS analysis is "extensive across potentially affected resources," its frequent "lack of detail" is a weakness, they wrote.

The most important direct economic impact of offshore wind on fisheries could be the impact of turbine placement on stock assessments, the SCEMFIS report claims. It outlined that surveys are unlikely to be conducted in wind areas, in which case it is assumed that no stock exists there. This would likely lead to quota reductions, especially due to increased uncertainty in the assessments, and the resulting long-term effects would not be able to be resolved by a single-year compensation plan.


While the SEIS correctly categorised such impacts as "major," the SCEMFIS team wrote, "it does not address the scale and scope of these impacts." The SEIS also seemed to overlook potential changes in vessel transit routes that make certain areas no longer profitable to fish, the team wrote.


The biggest indirect threat to fisheries is a likely increase in marine mammal entanglements in and near wind areas, according to the SCEMFIS report. This could result from an increased density of fishing gear due to a reduction in available fishing areas and a new source of entanglements from offshore wind construction and operations that could be mistakenly attributed to fisheries. Greater threats to marine mammals would lead to greater limitations on fishermen, and the SEIS should have classified these impacts as "major" instead of "moderate," the researchers wrote.


There are also several potential environmental impacts from offshore wind that the SEIS did not adequately explore, the SCEMFIS team state. For instance, the SEIS considered impacts on the ecologically important "cold pool" of water that extends seasonally off the U.S. East Coast but only focused on impacts during some parts of the year. Seasonally, this region experiences one of the largest transitions in ocean stratification of anywhere in the world. Weakening the cold pool could help generate "the most catastrophic ecological event on the continental shelf the world has ever seen," the researchers wrote, so great care must be taken to show the chance of an impact from offshore wind is "vanishingly small." Such science is not present in the SEIS, they wrote.


Additionally, the SEIS mentioned climate change "without coming to grips with the seriousness of the problem," according to the SCEMFIS team. While the SEIS considered the current state of resources in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, it failed to adequately consider changes in species and fishing distribution that are likely to continue as a result of climate change, the team wrote.


SCEMFIS concludes that the
Vineyard Wind SEIS needs further work on eight key issues: the totality of impact across the Mid-Atlantic, physical oceanographic processes, climate change, adequacy of the database on finfish and benthic invertebrates, long-lived biota, fishing/surveys/stock assessments, marine mammals, and economics.

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